How Trust Affects Creative Collaboration

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Control freaks and psychological safety — We brought Eric Olive on the podcast as a guest to talk about the science of decisions and we ended up talking about control and safety. How do you create an environment of psychological safety? And how does that encourage creative collaboration?

Eric has also offered a list of articles and books for more reading which we’ve added below.

You can reach Eric at:


A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making by David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone HBR November 2007

Fooled by Experience by Emre Soyer and Robin M. Hogarth

Leaders as Decision Architects by John Beshears and Francesca Gino— Harvard Business Review. Structure your organization’s work to encourage wise choices.

“Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking”, Organization Science, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 409-421.

“The Identification of Solution Ideas During Organizational Decision Making,” Management Science 39: 1071–85. Paul C. Nutt (1993),

“Surprising but True: Half the Decisions in Organizations Fail,” Academy of Management Executive 13: 75–90. Paul C. Nutt, 1999.

Only for HBR (Harvard Business Review) Subscribers

Before You Make That Big Decision by Daniel Kahneman, Dan Lovallo, and Olivier Sibony. Harvard Business Review.

The Hidden Traps in Decision Making by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa. Harvard Business Review, January 2006.


A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

Beyond Greed and Fear by Hersh Shefrin

Decisive by Dan and Chip Heath

Educating Intuition by Robin Hogarth

Focus by Daniel Goleman

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Intuition at Work by Gary Klein

Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Seeing what Others Don’t by Gary Klein

The Art Of Thinking Clearly by Rolf/Griffin Dobelli

Winning Decisions by J. Edward Russo and Paul J.H. Schoemaker’


Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

How do you build a culture of trust?

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How’s the trust quotient where you work? Or in the country where you live? How do you build a culture where people trust each other?

We talk about the research on cooperation, punishment and trust in this episode of Human Tech.

For more details on the topic after you listen to the podcast, you may want to check out the blog post and video post on the same topic.

Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Episode 7: How Using the Ultimatum Bargaining Game Proves That Cultures of Trust Require Public Retaliation (NOT Altruism)

Game theory. Or should I sayyy LAME THEORY. Ayyyyyyy….

This post is about one small game, the ultimatum bargaining game, that’s useful in explaining the tools behavioral scientists can use to measure the reactions of other humans.

Did you ever watch the (now old) movie A Beautiful Mind? It’s about a mathematician named John Nash who developed the now famous Nash Equilibrium. That’s the beginning of the field of game theory. And game theory can be quite useful, as I said earlier, as a tool to measure how humans rate and react to choices.

I’m not going to actually tell you anything about game theory because it’s complicated and hard and there are 100 other posts and videos on Youtube that would do a much better job than I could. I just want you to be familiar with what it is and understand some of the simple games that are commonly used.

Okay, now that I’ve sufficiently buried the lead… The Ultimatum Bargaining Game! Güth, Schmittberger, and Schwartze in 1982 published a paper titled An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining. Now I’m not sure if they invented the ultimatum bargaining game, but they certainly get the credit for popularizing it. It goes like this:

There are two players and some money. One person has all the money and makes an offer to the other person.

If the other person accepts the offer, they get the amounts that were offered, but if they reject the offer, both people get nothing.

For example. We start the game and I have $30. I offer you a split where I keep $20, but you get $10. You’re not super happy about it but hey $10 is better than nothing, so you accept and we both get paid.

Next time I have $30, but I offer a split where I keep $29, and you get $1. ”Screw you!” you say. I’m such a jerk. You reject the offer out of spite and no one gets anything. Obviously, you can see the interesting behavioral economics twist.

Classical economic theory would say that the second person always accepts, because any amount of money, be it $5 or $1 or whatever, is more than nothing. The rational person (“actor”) always takes more over less.

And, of course, in the real world why this game is so brilliant is that it doesn’t happen that way.

People reject offers out of spite; especially when multiple rounds are played and there’s a history with someone. This is a classic decision of people making choices against their own self-interest! If I told you that you could make $1 just by accepting the dollar, wow! Sounds too good to be true. But if I tell you someone split $100 and gives you only $1… Not so much. It’s fascinating stuff.

I want to tell you about another paper entitled “Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History” by Berg, Dickhaut, and McCabe. They ran an experiment using a derivative of the Ultimatum game. Subjects in room A and room B are each given $10.

In room B, they pocket their money. In room A, they must decide how much to send to their (anonymous) counterpart in room B. Whatever amount A sends to B is tripled.

B then gets to choose how much money to return.

This second half of the game is a dictator game, because the room B person doesn’t have to give any money back to the other person in room A.

The optimal strategy for A is to never send any money because there is no guarantee they can get anything back. It’s an experiment in trust. If B doesn’t give back to A, next time they worry A won’t give anything to B.

In 55 out of 60 times running this experiment, A sent money to B. And I quote from the paper:

“In conclusion, experiments on ultimatum game, repeated prisoners’ dilemma games, and other extensive form games provide strong evidence that people do punish inappropriate behavior even thought this is personally costly.”

I’ll talk more about punishment later. Never underestimate the power of humans to make decisions not in their best interest, out of spite, and also give to others not out of kindness, or altruism, but out of fear of spite.

One theory of why 55 out of 60 people sent money even when they may have been better off not giving, was altruism. Altruism is the idea that humans do things that are purely good because we enjoy helping other people.

However, in a follow-up study in 2012, a different group re-investigated the game in “Does the trust game measure trust?” by Brulhart and Usunier. They found that none of their altruism measures were statistically significant, and I quote from the paper:

“In sum, our results suggest that altruism is not a statistically significant motivating force in determining “trust-like” behavior, both across all subjects and for specific groups of players.”

Trust was not formed through kindness, rather it was formed from fear of retribution. Altruism had nothing to do with trust in their Study.

How does this apply to the real world? Well, when people are anonymous weird stuff happens. People aren’t altruistic most of the time, especially when they can directly benefit by keeping money to themselves.

How then do you change behavior? How do you encourage altruistic behavior? Maybe you have a cause that you’d like to promote, or you are trying to create change somewhere.

If you want to create a culture of trust and sharing you must easily allow for public shaming and retaliation. Even if that retaliation ends up being a loss for everyone. People will hit the button that says “Well, if you won’t be nice to me, I won’t help you either even if it hurts me.”

Retaliation does not have to be in money. It could be in PR loss, or some other type. But it is critical that you create an environment that says clearly that these are the rules “we” the members of the community have agreed to. If you violate these rules the community, together, will punish you.

If the rest of the community does not band together to collectively punish the selfish; the selfish act will almost always win. And in systems and markets with especially greedy or immoral behavior you often see that the community does not take action against a bad actor to enforce community standards.

Economists can learn a lot about the process of human decision make through games. I wanted to introduce the idea of a few interesting games where the Nash equilibriums may indicate a different result than what we see in the real world.

I love games and have always found various setups like this exciting and fun. We’ll explore more fun games like the Ultimatum game in the future because it is so useful at eliciting human behavior.


Berg, J., Dickhaut, J., & McCabe, K. (1995). Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History. Games and Economic Behavior10(1), 122-142. doi:10.1006/game.1995.1027

Brülhart, M., & Usunier, J. (2012). Does the trust game measure trust? Economics Letters115(1), 20-23. doi:10.1016/j.econlet.2011.11.039

Güth, W., Schmittberger, R., & Schwarze, B. (1982). An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization3(4), 367-388. doi:10.1016/0167-2681(82)90011-7

100 Things You Should Know About People: #73 — 1st Screening About Trusting A Website Is Based On The "Look And Feel"

The word TrustThere isn’t a lot of actual research on trust and website design. There are a lot of opinions, but not necessarily much real data. Research by Elizabeth Sillence and team (2004) provides some solid data, at least in regard to health websites. Sillence researched how people decide whether and which health websites to trust. Participants in the study were all patients with hypertension. (In previous research Sillence used the topic of menopause, and found similar results). In this study participants used websites to look for information about hypertension.

Design is the first filter — When participants in the study rejected a health website as not being trustworthy, 83% of their comments were related to design factors, such as an unfavorable first impression of the look and feel, poor navigation, color, text size and the name of the website.

Content is the second filter — Once the first filter was applied, if the website hadn’t been rejected, then participants mentioned content rather than design factors. 74% of the participants’ comments were about content being important in deciding whether they found a site trustworthy (after the initial design impression). For example, if the sites were owned by well known and respected organizations, advice written by medical experts, and sites that were specific to them and that they felt were written for people like themselves.

A One-Two Punch — People use both design factors and content in deciding whether to trust a website, but the design impression comes first. If the design is not professional and deemed trustworthy they’ll never see the content.

What do you think? Do you find that you do that initial first impression based on design?

And for those of you who like to read the research:

Sillence, Elizabeth, Briggs, P. Fishwick, L., & Harris, P. (2004). Trust and mistrust of online health sites. CHI’04 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference On Human Factors In Computer Systems. New York: ACM.


100 Things You Should Know About People: #72 — Trust Is The Best Predictor Of Happiness


Book Cover of The Geography of BlissIf you want to know who is happiest, then figure out who feels the most trust.Which country has the happiest people? — Eric Weiner traveled all over the world in search of answers to the questions: Which countries have the happiest people and why? His answers surprised him and they surprised me too. Based on research, Iceland comes out towards the top of the pile, and Saudi Arabia towards the bottom.

Happiness factors — Here is some of what he discovered and writes about:

Extroverts are happier than introverts.

Optimists are happier than pessimists.

Married people are happier than singles, but people with children are the same as childless couples.

Republicans are happier than democrats.

People who go to church are happier than those who don’t.

People with college degrees are happier than those without, but people with advanced degrees are less happy.

People with an active sex life are happier than those without.

Women and men are equally happy, but women have a wider emotional range.

Having an affair will make you happy, but not if your spouse finds out and leaves you.

People are least happy when they are commuting to work.

Busy people are happier than those with too little to do.

Trust is the best predictor — But the best predictor of happiness is trust. If people trust the people around them, friends, and family, and if they trust their government, then they will score highest on the happiness surveys.

What do you think? Why is trust such a big predictor?

Eric Weiner’s book is a informative, but it’s also a fun read, filled with interesting stories as he travels all around the world. I highly recommend it, and here’s a link for the book at Amazon:




Do You Know The Trust Quotient of Your Organization?

Avis Button: We Try HarderLast week I gave the keynote talk at the Big D conference in Dallas Texas. (It’s a great conference and I suggest you check it out next year.) The conference was Friday and Saturday, although I could only go to the very beginning of day 2. I had to leave in the morning to go to the airport and catch my flight home.

Problem #1: I’m one of these “nervous” travelers, so I always make sure to leave plenty of time to get to the airport. I left the conference building on the deserted campus of Southern Methodist University, and walked to the parking garage where my Avis rental car was parked. As I went to get in I saw that I had a flat tire — completely flat. The question now was, could I deal with the flat tire and still get to the airport on time?

Thus began an hour and one half long very frustrating journey into voice interface hell. I called the number on my Avis paperwork, and went from voice tree to voice tree to voice tree. I was trying to get help with the tire, as well as find out if I could leave the car and get a cab to the airport. I would try one branch of the voice tree be on hold for 15 minutes. I would call another branch and talk to someone who would transfer me back to the same place I had been 30 minutes ago. I made at least 15 different phone calls and talked to at least 12 different people.

I will admit that there were times when I was sobbing into the phone, and although a few of the people on the other end sounded sympathetic, there appeared to be no way they could help me. At one point I decided to change the tire myself and just drive to the airport, but then discovered that, although there was a spare tire and a jack, there were no other tools (lug wrench?) in the trunk.

After 90 minutes of this, I did manage to talk to someone who was going to come tow the car. I gave him directions to where it was, hoped he’d be able to find it, left the keys in the car, and called my hotel (that I had already checked out of) and asked them to send a taxi. The taxi driver obliged my request to drive really fast, and I even made my plane home. I have no idea if Avis ever got the car. I sure hope they did! Of course I have not heard from them.

Apple vs. Avis: Let’s contrast that experience with what happened when I discovered that I had a large crack in my beloved iPad screen. I’ve had the iPad for a few weeks now, and am definitely attached to it. Imagine my dismay upon discovering a huge crack. I called Apple (I always buy apple care for my apple products) and was transferred to a person in about 2 minutes. He actually wasn’t sure what to do (said it was the first time anyone had called in with a cracked screen to him). After first asking if the crack was sharp and would hurt me (it wasn’t, but I appreciated his concern), he asked if they could call me back. Which of course they promptly did. We then discussed options (go to a store, but there is no store near me, or send it in by fedex, or have them send me a new one and then I send it in etc), I picked an option, and the whole thing was taken care of in a matter of minutes.

I know that an iPad is not the same as a rental car. But the real difference here is that Apple wants to take care of problems and has created a support system to do so, and Avis has not. I pay to have “apple care” and they do care. Apple has put the customer/user experience high up on their list of priorites. Avis, on the other hand,  is a confused conglomeration of support around the world. I’d pay extra to have “avis care” but there is no such option. At this point, the slogan, “we try harder” is merely a slogan without any teeth behind it.

Apple will continue to get my business. Avis will not. Assuming I rent a vehicle once a month for $250 each time, that’s about $3000 a year. Over a 10 year period that’s $30,000. You’d think that Avis would not want to lose $30k of business from a single customer.

It’s all about the customer experience. It’s all about what happens when something goes wrong. Things always go wrong. Have you researched your company? What happens when something goes wrong for your customers? Have you experienced what it’s like from their point of view? Have you put time and attention on customer care when there are problems? Your true business is not just the product or service that customers initially come to you for. It’s the relationship you have with them. It’s when things go wrong that you find out who your friends really are. And it’s when things go wrong that you find out which businesses you want to continue to have relationships with. People make decisions about what companies to work with, and they make those decisions largely unconsciously. They will decide to work with companies they trust. How you handle problems and mistakes has a huge impact on trust.

What is the trust quotient of your organization?


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Trust Lesson #2: Building Trust Is Not Enough

I choose the vendor I trust and have a “habit” for: I saw the movie Julie and Julia and now am reading the book. I got inspired, therefore, to try making a souffle and a quiche. Except I don’t own a souffle dish or a quiche dish. So, time to do my part for the economy, and actually purchase some kitchen wares. I happened to be in a Williams Sonoma store and even looked at and picked up both a quiche and a souffle dish. But I didn’t purchase them. I was thinking about a news story I had read recently that Amazon is positioning itself to be the major retailer of everything. I’m an Amazon fan (I actually bought their stock when they first went public and then stupidly sold it about 3 months later!), so I decided I’d buy my souffle and quiche dishes online at Amazon.

Uh, oh, something goes wrong: I quickly found what I wanted and ordered with “one click”. Two days later they arrive — each broken into little pieces.  Next I go online to let them know and get a refund. You can’t talk to anyone when you have a problem at Amazon, and the refund process is NOT easy. I have to find the right form online (took several tries). I have to fill out the form correctly (several more tries). I have to print labels (they want the broken dishes back). I have to send the dishes back separately. One has to go back via UPS and the other through the US mail (why is this?!?).

Trust is gone: I am a loyal Amazon fan. I buy hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise from Amazon each year. But I can tell you I will not buy anything breakable from them again, and I will think twice about buying anything that may have to be returned. This experience has eroded my trust, and not because the dishes arrived broken, but because it is so hard to get things rectified if there is a problem. Not being able to talk to a person makes me feel like Amazon doesn’t care about my experience as a customer.

Building trust isn’t enough: It’s one thing to miss out on an opportunity to build trust with a new customer. But it’s even worse to erode trust with someone who was loyal. Pay attention to the customers you have now. Make sure you evaluate your website, not only in terms of building trust, but in terms of keeping trust.

Trust Issues — A Sure Way to Kill a Marketing Campaign

Today I received a Linked In message from someone I don’t know describing a free assessment tool for using social media to generate leads. The word FREE was used 3 times in all caps, so it caught my attention, of course, (FREE is a trigger word), and I clicked on the link to the web page. The page itself had some good persuasive design, but Trust alarm bells started ringing, and before long the entire interaction had gone down the drain.

Three critical Trust factors were violated in this interaction:

Trust Issue 1: Insincerity — The original linked in email started with: “I think you attended one of our free training classes on Generating Leads using LinkedIN and or Facebook in the past.“… I don’t remember attending any training classes on this topic, and the author even says “I think”… so it’s an amazing testament to the word FREE that I even went the next step and clicked on the link. But my Trust alarms were activated by that first sentence, and that colored the rest of my experience.

Trust Issue 2: Mispellings and grammatical errors — At the web page itself there was a grammatical error and a mispelled word. I know this sounds small, but these are Trust issues. I was already on alert because of the original email, and seeing these errors in the copy of the web page made me wonder how legitimate these people were. STILL the copy at the web page was persuasive and I was willing to fill out the form for the free assessment. Willing, but not able! Read on…

Trust Issue 3: Usability issues and errors — I tried to fill out the form 4 times! There were numerous unexplained errors… One of them said that Field #6 requires numbers… well, none of the fields are labelled as Field #6, but I counted and I think this was the phone number field… I did have a number in it… Another error was that there was a text box labelled “Additional Request”. I had no idea what to put in there, but I got an error message saying it was required! I tried 4 times to fill out the form, but kept getting errors. Now my trust had eroded down to zero. Not only will I not be getting my free assessment, or buying their service for $199 — I will have a hard time trusting the company, and I even have written this blog post, passing on my trust issues to others.

Lesson — Make sure you aren’t violating trust. Although each of these trust issues is small on its own, together they create a Trust 3-alarm fire that chases away potential customers.